The Best Four Roses Ever?
Don't you just love open-ended questions like that, which maybe hint at quality, but don't have the guts to make the assertion themselves? I used to live by a diner in San Francisco that had a sign in the window reading, "Is our diner the best breakfast in town?" I don't know, is it? I live by a sushi place in San Mateo that does the same thing: "Is our lunch special the best value in town?" You tell me!!!! Regarding my question concerning whether the new Limited Edition Small Batch is the best incarnation of the whiskey yet, I would answer: that's what master distiller Jim Rutledge told me, at least. Those were his exact words. "I think this might be the best small batch we've ever made." He also said that the 17 year old Four Roses casks that went into it "might be some of the best Bourbon he's ever tasted." Having now tasted the Four Roses 2012 Limited Edition Small Batch for myself, I can see what he's talking about.
I had a friend schlep me a bottle of the 17 year old single barrel back from the Four Roses gift shop and I think it's very good whiskey. The 2012 Small Batch, however, is more impressive to me. Maybe I'm being unconsciously influenced by the opinion of a master distiller, but I can completely see why Jim thinks those older barrels were better used as part of this incredible marriage. Even at 55.7% cask strength, the whiskey doesn't need much water, if any. 55% is about as high as I like to go with whiskey anymore, so I'm happy they didn't pull a Stagg or Parker's on me. Inside the Small Batch are unspecified proportions of three Four Roses recipes at four different ages: OBSV 17, OBSV 11, OBSK 12, and OESK 12 respectively. The 17 year old juice adds more richness and body than the standard Small Batch has. The extra wood thickens the mouthfeel and intensifies the fruit along with the vanilla. It's a Bourbon with few flaws, if any, and it tastes impressive on the first sip. You don't have to sit there and ponder it. It's obviously pretty freakin' great. If you had someone new to Bourbon taste both the Small Batch and the 2012 Limited Small Batch side by side, that person would most certainly say, "Ohhhh, I can see why that one costs more," when referring to the 2012 LE.
When we got these bottles into stock yesterday morning, I bought one without tasting it. I knew that if Jim was adamant about its quality, that would be enough for me. We seem to have similar palates in so far as what we both look for in our Bourbon, so I was almost certain I was going to like this. Is it the best Four Roses I've ever had? In recent memory, there's no question: yes. It's not a single barrel, remember, it's a carefully-crafted cuvée (how's that for alliteration?). It's polished, rounded, and mouthwatering, rather than bold, spicy, and powerful like some of the K&L single barrel selections have been (which I'll actually be writing about later today). Your expectations will ultimately play a role in how much you enjoy this whiskey, but I can't imagine anyone who loves Bourbon not loving this. Whether it's the best Four Roses ever or not is a difficult question to answer, however. I'm not qualified to make that statement. I would ask Jim Rutledge, the guy who has been making the whiskey for decades. Oh, that's right, he already said it was the best.
I guess it must be. I've still got sixteen left.